You differentiate. You may have 3-4 reading groups, you may have 6-7 reading groups (yes, I did that), you may pull students for 1-1 instruction, or small group instruction with a group that needs to work on a particular concept. Today I thought I'd show you some simple ways to use a single reading resource many ways, that is, to differentiate.
I'm going to focus today on emergent readers. UNC defines an emergent reader as:
"Child on the path to fluent literacy, before conventional reading and writing
skills emerge. Emergent readers demonstrate alphabet knowledge, a concept
of what a word is, a sense of story (beginning, middle, end), listening and
retelling skills, phonemic awareness, and verbal expression."
Here's an example of some text you might use with an emergent reader. It has a limited number of words, uses mostly sight words, and has pictures that clearly match the sentences. You'll notice the text has a repeating pattern, in this case, "I see a red __" The book I took this from has 6 sentences with this pattern, one to a page, plus a final page without the last word on it, for the children to add in their own word and picture. Once children are familiar with the text pattern from the book, you can have them match the sentences and pictures. Start with just a couple, and work your way up.
You can also separate the words in a sentence and have students pay close attention to each word in order to put the words in the correct order. This is a great time to point out that sentences start with capital letters (so the word "This" must be first) and end with punctuation (so the word yellow must be last). Children will look at the first letter in each word to help them decode the word, and need to think about what makes sense. They may notice that the first word in each sentence is the same, or point out the pattern the sentences are based on. If they struggle with one of these words, you might want to point out other instances of the word - preferably in a sentence they've already read.
I find that children are much more likely to engage with the text if they have the opportunity to "play" with it, so I make word and picture cards large enough for students to manipulate easily. I usually use mine in a pocket chart. Just think of the fun children can have putting the words in the wrong order to create crazy "sentences" - and the reading and thinking about the words necessary to do so!
If you are working on skills like this with more than one child, challenge them to work together to make the sentences, or to scramble them up for each other. My students LOVED taking turns scrambling and decoding sentences. You can even have them dictate and illustrate additional sentences that fit the pattern, and let them scramble and decode those!
As students gain skills and confidence, you can challenge them with more text at once...
Here I've combined both of these techniques: several sentences need to be unscrambled, and then the matching picture can be found and placed with each one. Notice that these are still predictable sentences that follow a pattern, and that the pictures still correlate closely to the text. By varying the number of sentences children are working with, whether the words are in order or scrambled, and whether the pictures are with the sentence or scrambled separately, you can manage the difficulty level for different children - or the same child, on different days.
This is the most challenging level I've come up with for this kind of text. I've scrambled both the pictures and the words for multiple sentences, and have provided the text in book form for students to refer to as they put everything in order. Look how much more challenging this is than the other ways of differentiating listed above! By the time students can work with the text at this level, they've most likely mastered the sight words used in the text, and will be able to identify those words in other places. (In other words, they're really reading!)
When working with children like this, it's important to look at what they CAN do, and to build on the skills already in place. A child who already knows the sight words in a text probably doesn't need to match pictures to sentences, just as a child who is working to put a single sentence in order will only be frustrated if you scramble several at once. You want them to enjoy the experience of working with words, as well as to learn new things!
These techniques will work with almost any emergent reader text, but if you are interested in the texts I've used in this post, they are all part of this resource, including the word and picture cards for children to manipulate:
I'd love to hear how you differentiate for your emergent readers - share your tips in the comment section below!